R.I.P. Rachel Goldberg, “UnREAL’s” Antihero Gone Bland

“UnREAL,” Lifetime’s dark drama behind the scenes of a “Bachelor”-esque reality TV show, has always held one main attraction for me: its starring character, producer Rachel Goldberg.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Quinn King, too. She’s a fearsome femme who runs “Everlasting,” the aforementioned “Bachelor” parallel, with an iron gaze and a grip as tight as her dresses. But Quinn, for all her biting one-liners and dictatorial rule, is a more familiar creature than Rachel. The manipulative genius who serves as Quinn’s protégé and “UnREAL’s” molten core, Rachel’s of a breed both common and rare. She’s an antihero as potent as Tony Soprano or Ray Donovan — but she’s one of the only female antiheroes to make her mark on television.

At least, she was. Until Monday’s fiasco of an episode, “Fugitive.”

The eighth episode in “UnREAL’s” uneven second season, “Fugitive” found Rachel under self-imposed lockdown, willingly medicated by her mother, a shifty psychiatrist whom she hates, after accidentally orchestrating the police shooting of a black man. Rachel’s character, up until this episode, has remained consistent: she believes in television’s power to make a positive difference in the real world, but her own selfish, duplicitous, morally compromised nature binds her to “Everlasting,” a show revolting and exploitative.

Sometimes, Rachel tries to turn “Everlasting” into her culture-changing platform, like by casting the show’s first black suitor, Darius, this season. But oil and water don’t mix: Rachel’s attempt at changing society explodes with the bang of a police officer’s gun. She takes and deserves blame for the bullet that hit Darius’ cousin Romeo. After he and Darius, rightly annoyed at “Everlasting’s” producers, took a car for a joyride with two white female contestants, Rachel called the cops, hoping to broadcast police bias against black men for the masses. She was too right about the bias she’d see.

After her plan falls apart, with Romeo and Darius in the hospital, Rachel lets her mother — who has claimed Rachel suffers from an assortment of mental ailments throughout the series — medicate her beyond coherence. I won’t rehash the rest of the episode for you; you can look up a review for that. But if you’re wondering why Rachel’s psychiatrist mom is doing something as unethical fas treating her own daughter, “UnREAL” answers your quandary with one of the worst twists ever: when Rachel was 12, one of her mother’s patients raped her, and her mother has treated and medicated her ever since then to protect her psychiatry practice.

And with that revelation, Rachel the Antihero died.

On the surface, revealing that one of Dr. Goldberg’s patients raped Rachel adds some value to the show. It explains why Rachel has always reviled her mother, and why Dr. Goldberg has always vaguely resembled a villain from a horror movie. Within that slim storyline, the twist works — it even helps.

But making Rachel a rape victim destroys much more than it explains “UnREAL’s” protagonist. The beauty of antiheroes is in their complication: they are both good and bad, likable and repulsive, smart and stupid, moral and corrupt. They contain contradictions, and in doing so, they resemble real people more than almost any other character type. Antiheroes work as plausible characters precisely because we see ourselves in them: we, too, consider ourselves somewhat inscrutable, a mix of qualities both desirable and unwanted.

That’s why there are so few female antiheroes. In general, women have been seen as vessels and stock characters rather than as full humans, in TV and real life. We’re chastised if we stray from gender norms; we aren’t allowed the same depth and complication.

Rachel was the rare exception — a product of “UnREAL’s” equally rare female showrunners, Sarah Gertrude Shapiro and Marti Noxon. Sadly, Shapiro and Noxon fell victim to the same tired trope so many men have employed. By making Rachel a rape victim, long-suffering in silence, they made all of her miscalculations, ambiguities and deficiencies a result of her rape. She can’t be blamed for her mistakes: they stem from suppressed childhood trauma. She can’t be reviled: now, we’ll always have her victimhood in our heads.

The Rachel we knew is gone, replaced by a character much more familiar, much less interesting and no longer important in the modern TV landscape. Male violence made her multifaceted: Rachel, like nearly every other woman in TV and film, couldn’t just be a person because she’s a person. She had to be Created by her nameless rapist. Yet again, a man became God.

I’m going to keep watching “UnREAL,” at least for the rest of this season. Shiri Appleby and Constance Zimmer continue to give Emmy-worthy performances as Rachel and Quinn. Their characters’ relationship continues to intrigue me. Maybe Shapiro and Noxon will even come up with an ingenious way to make their rape twist worthwhile.

But I doubt it. And until that miracle happens, I’ll mourn the death of Rachel Goldberg: a woman of limitless television promise, taken from viewers too soon.


Near Work’s End, Tackling a Pachyderm-Sized Problem

It’s strange that as of today, July 21, I have about one month left working at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo — really, less, since I’m taking a pre-planned vacation August 7-12. My individual days don’t rush past me, but every time I look back, weeks seem to have flown by.

My responsibilities so far haven’t changed much. I still do regular observations of the elephants, and still delight in seeing their individuality. I still watch footage of the elephants at night, documenting their instances of play and recumbent sleep. (I wish everyone could see Moshi and Martika play-spar with each other, I really do.) I still do assorted conservation assignments, helping out with FutureForWildlife.org and other work.

Currently, though, I have one big project — not my last one, but still significant. The Association of Zoos & Aquariums, the nonprofit accrediting body which includes more than 230 institutions in the U.S. and abroad, provides some resources for zoos and educators to teach the public about conservation issues. Yet AZA members do not currently have easy access to educational materials and resources about the second-biggest threat to wildlife worldwide, the fourth most profitable global crime: the illegal wildlife trade.

The illegal wildlife trade has contributed to the demise of not just my loves, elephants, but also rhinos, tigers, orangutans, pangolins, snow leopards (Cleveland has a baby right now!), Asian turtles — the list goes on. Dozens of species are threatened by poaching to meet human greed, not to mention those species’ environments and the livelihoods of people who live there

Unlike many of our world’s problems, such as Donald Trump’s presidential nomination, the illegal wildlife trade is solvable. We can stop it. Public awareness reduces demand for wildlife products. Trade bans actually work if they aren’t sabotaged. The trick is raising that public awareness: to lessen demand, to encourage lawmakers to pass trade bans and to make it harder for corrupt politicians to circumvent those bans for personal interest. (Unashamed plug: if I’ve now made you aware and you want to reduce demand, go here. If you want America to have one of those lovely trade bans, go here.)

Because AZA’s zoos and aquariums receive more than 183 million visitors every year, AZA has a unique opportunity to influence the public’s views about the illegal wildlife trade. Hence my big project right now: writing a proposal for AZA to develop resources about the illegal wildlife trade for its member institutions to use.

It’s important work, and I’m honored my supervisor Kym is trusting me to write it. It’s also, as you can probably guess, very challenging. I’ve never written a formal proposal of this sort before. As I write, I’m figuring out how I want to structure my proposal; how many facts I can include without sounding overbearing; which sources I should cite; what resources, exactly, AZA should make. And that’s just the beginning: because I work over-carefully, I’ve confronted far more quandaries, large and small, than just those. (Focusing on the proposal without going on Facebook is a whole issue in and of itself. I’m working on it.)

Even though this proposal relies most on my existing skills — writing; organization; persuasion, to a degree — it’s become my hardest assignment. That’s been an important reminder of humility, and an even better opportunity to improve as a student and worker. This paper is far from my last assignment, but for the first time this summer, I feel my job winding down.

After all, I just have three weeks left. I’m at the end of this column now, and that’s still bizarre.

Donald Trump, Schmuck in Chief

Donald Trump is a piece of drek.

That fact has been clear throughout this entire election cycle, but it became especially obvious yesterday. You know, when Donald Trump tweeted a blatantly anti-Semitic image accusing Hillary Clinton of corruption. The poster had a background of money and a red badge declaring Clinton the “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever” — shaped like a Star of David.

As Andy Borowitz put it, right as always: “Trump doing an anti-Semitic tweet about someone who isn’t Jewish combines two of his signature qualities, racism and inaccuracy.” So meshuge.

Trump deleted the tweet, which seemed almost like an admission of wrongdoing. But of course it wasn’t! A k’nocker like Trump doesn’t apologize. No, instead Trump waited until today to tweet: “Dishonest media is trying their absolute best to depict a star in a tweet as the Star of David rather than a Sheriff’s Star, or plain star!”

That’s because it was a Star of David, Donald. Sheriff’s stars have circles on their points. Plain stars usually have five tips.

As always, Trump deliberately or genuinely just doesn’t get it. Because of that, I realized: why bother writing a column in English for this am horets? He’s earned the language of my people, the language with the best insults in the world: Yiddish.

And here’s the thing: Yiddish is the most appropriate language to write this rant in anyway. Yiddish became the language of Ashkenazi Jews in the ninth century. No matter where in Eastern or Central Europe these Jews lived, their language united them. My grandmother’s family came from modern-day Lithuania, my grandfather’s family from modern-day Ukraine. Those two countries are more than 1,100 miles apart. Yet both my grandparents spoke Yiddish. Instead of Lithuanian or Ukrainian, Yiddish was their families’ native language.

That’s because being Jewish added a formative layer to their identity. Both an ethnicity and a faith, Judaism has defined its adherents for thousands of years. It’s not the only thing that defines us: I, for example, am also a white, upper-middle-class woman from Suburbia, USA. But it’s an intrinsic part of our identities — a link that Yiddish, for more than a millennium, exemplified.

Donald Trump can’t understand what it means to be part of a persecuted minority, because he’s not part of one. He particularly can’t understand what it means to be Jewish. The poster he tweeted, whose anti-Semitism he later denied, epitomizes an old Yiddish saying, born from centuries of persecution and mistrust: Dos ken nor a goy. “That, only a gentile is capable of doing.” Only a non-Jew with Trump’s chutzpa could parrot such narishkayt.

Here’s the thing: Trump almost certainly doesn’t think of himself as anti-Semitic. His daughter Ivanka converted to Judaism; three of his grandchildren will receive B’nai Mitzvot. They’re related to him, so in theory he cares about them.

But that doesn’t preclude him from being an anti-Semite. In fact, Trump is anti-Semitic. He may not think Jews’ association with money is a bad thing — he’s tried to cultivate that same association for himself — but he does think it exists.

Let’s look at his great seykhl of the Jewish people:

  • “I’m a negotiator like you folks, we are negotiators. . . . Is there anybody that doesn’t renegotiate deals in this room? This room negotiates them — perhaps more than any other room I’ve ever spoken in.” — Trump, assuming all Jews are money-obsessed hagglers, at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s Presidential Forum in 2015.
  • “Stupidly, you want to give money. . . . You’re not going to support me because I don’t want your money.” — There he goes again with the money stereotype at the RJC!
  • “I promise you that I’m much smarter than Jonathan Leibowitz – I mean Jon Stewart @TheDailyShow. Who, by the way, is totally overrated.” — A tweet from The Donald in 2013, with his insinuations about Stewart’s Judaism plain.
  • “Black guys counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day.”As told to John R. O’Donnell, former president of Trump Plaza Hotel & Casino. Trump probably thought this was a compliment.
  • “I don’t have a message to the fans. . . . A woman wrote an article that’s inaccurate.” — This quote would seem innocuous if Trump wasn’t defending his anti-Semitic supporters, who were sending vile, vulgar death threats to Julia Ioffe, a Jewish reporter who wrote an article about Melania Trump. Wolf Blitzer gave Trump an opportunity to denounce those fans; Trump didn’t take it.

From those five quotes alone, Trump’s record is clear: he believes in the stereotypes about Jews and money, plus a few others. Even worse, he spreads and encourages those stereotypes among his millions of followers. He bears direct blame for the neo-Nazis attacking Jews, journalists or otherwise, online. There’s a reason David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, enthusiastically endorsed him.

Donald Trump is an anti-Semite.

It doesn’t matter that his daughter and grandchildren are Jewish. It doesn’t matter that there are some rich Jews, or Jewish accountants. Trump’s stereotypes about us remain prejudicial khaloshes. They’re garbage, responsible for millions of Jews’ deaths.

And this oyf kapores zhlob wants to be president of the United States.

Happy Fourth of July, everybody. Don’t vote for Donald Schmuck Trump in November.

Tusks, Tails and Tales

One of my favorite parts of my summer job at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo has been learning to identify the elephants.

The Zoo has five African elephants, four female and one male. Because part of my job involves observing and recording their behavior, I have to know which elephant is which. More than a month into my job, I’ve achieved that — and I thought you might find it as cool as I did.

Let’s start with the easiest elephant to spot.


Willy standing near a tree in the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo's Mopani range.

Willy standing near a tree in the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo’s Mopani range.

At 11 feet tall and almost 13,000 pounds, Willy, the bull elephant, isn’t just the biggest animal the Zoo has ever housed: he’s also one of the biggest in America. Because of his size, he’s easy to tell apart from the female elephants, all of whom weigh at least 2,500 pounds less than him and stand several feet shorter.

However, Willy would look distinctive even compared to other bull elephants. His trunk has deep, muscular grooves. More notably, for an unclear reason, Willy only has one tusk. His other one was surgically removed after an unknown injury, presumably a break deep enough it reached the nerve/pulp cavity. When a tusk cracks that deep, it must be removed to prevent infection. Whatever the incident spurring that surgery, it happened before Willy came to Cleveland — before, even, he went to Disney’s Animal Kingdom, where he lived from 1998 until  2011.

Another unknown is how 37-year-old Willy became sterile. Like losing his tusk, it happened decades ago: possibly at the now-defunct Four Bears Water Park in Michigan or at Zoomotion, a private entertainment company which provides animals for films. (Fun fact: Willy and Kallie, one of the Zoo’s females, lived in those two locations together. More on that later.) Willy’s keepers do not know how or when Willy was sterilized, although they do not think he was born infertile.

Willy reaches for hay from an elevated feeder in an indoor paddock.

Willy reaches for hay from an elevated feeder in an indoor paddock.

But at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, Willy’s inability to breed comes in handy. All of the Zoo’s female elephants are past a healthy reproductive age: although they could bear calves, it would not be safe for them to do so. Willy being sterile means he can mate with the females, but with no possibility of reproduction. That certainty keeps both him and the females safer.

Altogether, Willy is the epitome of a gentle giant: laid-back, but bigger than you can imagine. The features he lacks don’t make him any less impressive.


Kallie investigates the ground in the Mopani range.

Kallie investigates the ground in the Mopani range.

The next-largest elephant is Kallie, the biggest of the females. On loan from the Philadelphia Zoo, 34-year-old Kallie actually arrived from the Pittsburgh Zoo’s International Conservation Center. She is distinctive among the females for more than her tall stature. She has even, long tusks and a long, straight tail. More notably, she hangs her head unusually low: from any angle, you can see her shoulders above her ears. This trait, more than any other, helps me identify Kallie.

Her arrival in Cleveland in 2011 was a reunion with Willy and two of the other females, Martika and Shenga. All four elephants lived as calves in the “Jumbo Lair”: eccentric millionaire Arthur Jones’ property in Ocala, FL. Jones, founder of the fitness brand Nautilus, flew 63 orphaned baby elephants from Zimbabwe to his 600-acre estate in 1983. Most African elephants in American zoos today come from Jones’ collection, including Willy, Kallie, Martika and Shenga.

Kallie stows hay in between her tusk and her trunk.

Kallie stows hay in between her tusk and her trunk.

Jones sold Martika in 1984 and Shenga in 1986. Kallie and Willy have the longest history together: Jones sold them both to Four Bears Water Park in 1989. Then, they both moved to Zoomotion, a private entertainment company, where they lived together until Willy went to Disney’s Animal Kingdom in 1998. Kallie went to the Philadelphia Zoo a year later, where she stayed until 2009, when the Zoo closed its elephant exhibit and moved her to Pittsburgh.

Just two years later, she reunited with Willy, her longtime companion. Kallie gets along well with all the elephants. If you go to the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, you may well see her with hay wedged between her tusk and trunk for safekeeping — a behavior Martika shares.



Martika hangs out in the Mopani range.

Playful and clever, Martika came to Cleveland from the Erie Zoo in 1997. Like Shenga, Tika has lopsided tusks from breaking them — an occurrence as common as breaking a nail. The one in the photo, at left, is her longest; her other tusk, which she broke more recently, is barely visible.

Because of their similar tusks (and size), Shenga and Tika can be hard to tell apart. I’ve come up with two ways to do that. The first, and easiest, is their tails. Tika’s long tail has a kink near the end; Shenga’s, however, is shaped like a backwards question mark. When I can’t see the elephants’ butts, I use their foreheads. While Shenga has a wrinkled, gravelly forehead, Martika’s is unusually smooth, with only a few grooves. Noticing this difference between their foreheads has become essential for me as an observer: of all the elephants, Shenga and Tika are the hardest to distinguish.

Martika approaches grass in the Savannah range of the Zoo's African Elephant Crossing.

Martika approaches grass in the Savannah range of the Zoo’s African Elephant Crossing.

In personality, however, Tika is distinctive. She enjoys her baths, playing with the water and making bubbly noises. She plays games with Moshi, one of the other female elephants, during the day and at night: they stick their trunks through bars in the indoor paddocks to poke each other. She also developed the habit at one of her previous residences of tucking her treats and hay in between her tusk and her trunk, to stop other elephants from taking them. Wild elephants don’t do that: Tika came up with the behavior herself. The fact the Zoo’s other elephants now use that same trick means they learned it from Tika or coincidentally came up with it themselves.

Either way, that food-storing behavior exemplifies two of elephants’ greatest traits: their intelligence and ingenuity. With her smart, lively nature, Tika may be my favorite of the Zoo’s elephants. Only maybe, though: I love them all.


Shenga eats grass in the Mopani range.

Shenga eats grass in the Mopani range.

As I described earlier, Shenga and Martika look similar thanks to their size and tusks. However, Shenga’s gravelly forehead and question mark-shaped tail help me tell her apart. So, too, is her demeanor unique.

Another calf from Arthur Jones’ Jumbo Lair, Shenga left in 1986 and eventually ended up in the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, NE. Her keepers moved her to Cleveland in 2010 after Shenga’s sole exhibit mate in Omaha died. All elephants need companionship, as sensitive, social creatures. Shenga in particular thrives best in a herd.

That social nature shines through in her interactions with the other elephants. Shenga is friendly with the other females, but can also display dominance: at night, she sometimes wakes Martika up to take her sleeping spot. Most of the time, however, she is sweet and gentle.

Shenga rubs Willy's head; then, he rubs his trunk across her back.

Shenga rubs her head against Willy’s. Then, Willy runs his trunk across Shenga’s back.

In particular, Shenga has a loving relationship with Willy. The two elephants enjoy one another’s company, and I am told she likes playing with him. I was lucky enough to see one of the pair’s interactions during an observation. Willy stood by one of the gates, looking antsy and ill at ease. Shenga walked over and began rubbing her head against him, touching him with her trunk — making sure he was okay. In response, Willy rubbed his trunk across her back. The two elephants then stood together for a few minutes, heads against one another, tusks all but intertwined.

It was one of the most beautiful moments I’ve ever witnessed.


Moshi stands in the Mopani range.

Moshi stands in the Mopani range.

Last in this list but first in life, 40-year-old Moshi is the oldest of the Zoo’s elephants. She’s also the smallest, standing feet shorter than Kallie, and the roundest: for some reason, her stomach is particularly rotund.

Moshi has two long, almost-even tusks: her right was filed down when she broke its tip. Like Martika, she also has a particularly smooth forehead. But her most identifiable feature, besides her size, is her cropped tail. Moshi’s tail was broken in an altercation with Jo, one of the Zoo’s former elephants, who was aggressive. (Jo died in 2012.) Yet Moshi has retained a sweet, fun demeanor, easily cooperating with her keepers and playing games with her fellow elephants.

Moshi approaches Shenga in the Savannah range.

Moshi approaches Shenga in the Savannah range.

Moshi and Martika are perhaps the closest among the female elephants: in addition to playing together, they also sleep side-by-side. Martika often stands sentinel, in a guard-like position, while Moshi sleeps, as a sign of protection and camaraderie. However, Moshi gets along with all the elephants. She often eats hay that they drop on the ground, as the elevated feeders are hardest for her to reach.

The Zoo’s only elephant not from Jumbo Lair, Moshi was born in South Africa. She lived in the Wildlife Safari in Winston, OR from 1979 until 1997, when she came to Cleveland. Since then, she’s been a staple of the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo’s herd, providing friendship and an elder’s wisdom.

Now that you’ve read this whole post, I’d like to ask for a favor: the next time you go to the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, don’t use male pronouns for the females. You have no excuse for making that mistake — one of my biggest pet peeves — anymore. Willy looks distinguished enough: you’ll know him when you see him.

And if you’re feeling adventurous, maybe try telling the females apart, too. If I can do it, you can. You may even have fun with it — I know I have.